Drilling disturbs Penn Township peace

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Interest by drillers who want to set up shop in Penn Township has caused concern not only among residents but officials who want to protect the community’s “quality of life.”

And, with the recent court rulings placing control over drilling into the hands of the municipalities rather than the state, Penn Township is having to do something that it has never had to do before.

“The township has never had any control over drilling. It was all left up to the state,” said Alex Graziani, township secretary manager. “But, it’s now being addressed with the hopes of appeasing drillers and protecting the community.”

Last month, Commonwealth Court dismantled the state’s argument that the Public Utility Commission could still review and challenge local zoning ordinances that did not facilitate oil and gas development.

The appeals court made its decision on remand from the state Supreme Court, which made a landmark ruling on the constitutionality of Act 13, the state’s omnibus oil and gas legislation passed in 2012. The high court struck down parts of that law and dealt a blow to centralized regulation in the state by returning to municipalities their right to change or enforce local zoning laws.

While the matter was being argued in court, the township has been preparing a new zoning ordinance and zoning map that would allow oil and gas extraction almost anywhere in the township but prohibit wells and other drilling structures in residential areas.

A draft ordinance was published in May, but Mr. Graziani said the ordinance is being revised. The revised ordinance is set to be presented to the public in September.

“The commissioners want to preserve oil and gas rights for property owners but limit the effects to residential areas,” he stated.

It was this message that was shared with several concerned property owners who addressed the commissioners at their recent regular public meeting.

Michael Bertonaschi, Marian Szmyd and Val Lamanna specifically asked the commissioners what their intents were regarding drilling in the township. Each also expressed concern about how drilling would directly affect their general quality of life or the rural character of the township.

The residents’ concerns came on the heels of news that Apex Energy, a Marcellus Shale drilling company, is considering as many as eight projects in the township.

Company representatives have been soliciting residents in the Level Green area for baseline water-quality tests related to a possible drilling site in the township near the North Huntingdon and Trafford borders, according to Mr. Graziani.

Earlier this year, Bow & Arrow, the land-procurement arm of the Huntley & Huntley drilling company, bought 219 acres off Pleasant Valley Road near the Murrysville border.

“People move to the township because of how beautiful it is,” Mrs. Lamanna said. “Development of Marcellus Shale is an industrial process and will compromise the community’s quality of life.”

Township solicitor Les Mlakar explained the township is trying to take measures to protect the township and its residents, but it cannot prohibit the extraction of oil and gas from the township.

He went on to say the township is working on creating an overlay district that will allow gas to be removed from any section of the township while creating another overlay district that will classify certain areas where wells can be located.

“The township may be able to say where drilling will occur, but we cannot say how,” he said. “We believe it needs to be properly regulated.”

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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